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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review: The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie

by Shannon Berteau of Small Farmer’s Journal

Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor, or the value of repetition in the practice of performing basic farm tasks with our horses. Working with horses on a farm is a craft and a skill and as such it is a process of lifelong learning. In fact, most of us won’t have just one mentor, but rather a series of teamsters we chance to meet who have traveled a little farther down the road than we have, and who often appear in our lives just when we have the most need for (and receptivity to) their hard-acquired wisdom. No matter how much we think we might know, we need to remain humble enough to recognize that there is always something more we can learn from our fellow teamsters – and most especially from our horses.

— Stephen Leslie in The New Horse-Powered Farm

Do you remember back to high school or college, way back maybe? Do you remember a teacher that did do some lecturing but didn’t put you to sleep? Something about the sound of their voice, or the lyrical nature of their sentence structure kept you poised and listening. Even though I have rarely heard the voice of Stephen Leslie, in reading his articles and emails over the years for Small Farmer’s Journal I have felt that he embodies this tone. Beginning his new book, The New Horse-Powered Farm: Tools and Systems for the Small-Scale Sustainable Market Grower, I found myself delighted that I was going to get to read a whole book of this voice, instead of just a short Journal article.

This exemplary tone of his wouldn’t be that important, except for the fact that no matter how well read I am on the subject, I am not a horse owner, or a farmer (gardener with chickens?). I was nervous about gleaning the necessary information from its pages. However, his scholarly, well-educated yet not boring professorialship allowed me to delve in and explore these tools and systems with the comfort of the most well established greenhorn. From tips on getting started with horses to using the basic tools for tillage and cultivation to whole farm management, Leslie takes things one step at a time and breaks to allow for questions periodically so he knows everyone is on equal footing; true sign of a good and patient teacher.

Once into the nuts and bolts of the book the pace is surprisingly quick as he takes you through a 300+ oversized page tour crossing this vast culture of knowledge. Sections include but are not limited to: draft horse breeds, care of the workhorse, working with your horse and training the teamster, training horses, working with horses on the farm, farm fertility, plowing, seeding, infrastructure, vegetable production, cultivation systems, harvesting, hay making and economics. Whew, what a mouthful. It is a lot to cover in 300 pages. He is brief in spots but somehow thorough at the same time. I particularly enjoyed the section on caring for your work horse which I didn’t expect to be detailed yet contained useful and important information for novice horse folk as well as good advice for the sage. There is also a reference section in the back and the bountiful side bars give you the impression that each of these farmers could be called upon in a time of need with their knowledge and expertise.

He pays much respect to these individuals and I truly enjoyed their shared perspectives as well as Leslie’s political interjections. Even though they can’t even really be construed as political, more philosophical:

Everything on this planet is connected, and every action must come full circle. Small farmers everywhere are planting the seeds of hope for a more sustainable world. In the future true food security will be founded on a return to human-scale farming communities.

I am left with the impression that this book could take the place of an over-view course entitled, Horse-Powered Farming 101. As Leslie states, it is a “practical application of draft horse power for the farmer of today”. It is, as he sets out to create, a “basic tool kit of the horse-powered market garden”. If you are starting from scratch you will need to delve more deeply into many of the sections touched upon in Leslie’s book with this in mind. Also, he periodically directs readers toward the references that have previously been made available on the subject including our very own Lynn Miller, Doc Hammill, and Eric and Anne Nordell.

I think this book will serve as a useful compass, or syllabus, from which to guide many young farmers’ journeys into farming with horses. I wish them the best of luck! Thank you, Stephen Leslie, for contributing this tome to help folks in their introduction to and/or transition toward draft-powered farming.

Anita Van Grunsven, seasoned horse farmer extraordinaire says,

For a beginning farmer it has a lot of good issues to consider and I really liked the interviews with people including apprentices all the way up to experienced folk like the Nordells. This book is for kindergarten through third grade horse farming experience levels and I consider myself a third grader.

Spotlight On: People

Another Barn Falls In

Another Barn Falls In

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The barn was built around a century ago. A pair of double doors on the front flapped when the wind blew, and a short service door was on the side. It wasn’t a big barn, about 30 feet wide by 40 feet long with a small hay mow above. It had a couple of windows for light, and of course a window in the peak. There was a hitching rail outside that gave it a certain welcoming charm. A charm that seemed to say, “tie up to the rail, and c’mon in.”

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

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A bold and opinionated German, Klaus moved to the midwest over 25 years ago from Bavaria and is currently running the only tractor-less farm in Platte County, Missouri operated by draft horses. Karbaumer Farm tries to “live and grow in harmony with Nature and her seasons” and produces over 50 varieties of chemical-free, organic vegetables for the community, providing a CSA or the greater Kansas City area.

Sustainable

Sustainable

Sustainable is a documentary film that weaves together expert analysis of America’s food system with a powerful narrative of one extraordinary farmer who is determined to create a sustainable future for his community. In a region dominated by commodity crops, Marty Travis has managed to maintain a farming model that is both economically viable and environmentally safe.

Central Oregon Locavore Online Fundraiser

CENTRAL OREGON LOCAVORE NEEDS YOUR HELP! We at SFJ can relate.  Central Oregon Locavore is running a GoFundMe campaign, similar to our Kickstarter campaign earlier this year.  Follow the links to learn more about Locavore and to show your support. www.centraloregonlocavore.org www.gofundme.com/locavore Central Oregon Locavore works for an ecologically stable and socially just food system […]

Icelandic Sheep

Icelandic Sheep

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I came to sheep farming from a background in the arts – with a passion for spinning and weaving. When we were able to leave our house in town to buy our small farm, a former dairy operation, I had no idea that the desire to have a couple of fiber animals would turn into full time shepherding. I had discovered Icelandic sheep, and was completely enamored of their beauty, their hardiness and their intelligence.

Livery and Feed

Livery & Feed

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A livery stable, for the benefit of those who never heard of one, was an establishment which catered to horses. It boarded them, doctored them, and bred them, whenever any of these services were required. It also furnished “rigs” — a horse and buggy or perhaps a team, for anyone who wished to ride, rather than walk, about the town or countryside. It was a popular service for traveling men who came into town on the railway train and wanted to call on customers in cross-road communities.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

It Is Who We Are

It Is Who We Are

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It is NOT a small world, it is a BIG world, as wide and various as you can possibly imagine. We are not alone. When we feel ourselves shut down, crowded by worry and a sense of failure, it would serve us well to remember Bulldog’s admonition, “Boss, never give up, no matter what, never give up.” Anyway, how could we? Who would put up the hay? Who would unharness the team? Who would milk the cows? Who would wax the cheese? Who would feed those woolly pigs? It’s got to be us, after all it is who we are.

Farmrun George's Boots

George’s Boots

George Ziermann has been making custom measured, hand made shoes for 40 years. He’s looking to get out, but can’t find anyone to get in.

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

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On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.

Richard Douglass, Self-sufficient Farmer

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I’ve got two teams of Belgians that power all the things on the farm. I don’t have a tractor, I don’t have a truck or anything like that. Everything must be done by them. I have two buggy horses that I use for transportation. I have a one-seater buggy for when I’m going into work or into town by myself and then I have a two-seater one for when I’m with the kids.

Jacko

Jacko

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By the time he was 3 years old, Jacko had grown into a big size jack, 13 hands tall and 900 pounds, and was still growing. That summer he ran the singlerow corn planter and raked the hay, proved himself handier with a single row cultivator than a single ox, getting closer to the plants without stepping on them. Gradually he had paced himself to his three educated gaits to fill whatever job Lafe required of him: fast walk for the planter and rake, slow walk for the cultivator and plant-setter, and brisk trot for the buggy.

Bonjour de France

Bonjour de France

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A little sign of life from France. Everything is going rather well at the tiniest of farms. Besides the veggies I have been plowing in the vineyards of the Bordeaux area to add some extra income. The drafthorses are back over there, so they need horsemen.

Great Oregon Steam Up

Great Oregon Steam-Up Bonus Gallery

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The best thing about the SFJ website is “unlimited real estate.” With each issue of the Small Farmer’s Journal comes the required agonizing over what to keep and what to sacrifice due to page space. What follows is a photo gallery of every picture we took at the 2016 Great Oregon Steam-Up. Why? Because we can! And, because there were a lot of interesting machines there that we are sure some of you will enjoy seeing.

Farm To School Programs Take Root

All aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Within so-called alternative agriculture circles there are turf wars abrew

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT